Rhode Island Ramble
The only problem with driving Route 114 is that, at five miles long, the trip is over quickly. Of course, "everything in Rhode Island is small," says Barbara Patrarca, the state's scenic byway coordinator. Six other state roads have been proclaimed scenic byways, and none exceeds ten miles.
Still, this road packs a punch, and the locals feel strongly about its importance. That's a good thing. Truly a grassroots movement, the scenic byways program allows anyone who does feel strongly to nominate a road for state approval. Route 114 was proposed by two Bristol locals; an 11-member board made up of representatives from the Rhode Island General Assembly, the Historic and Preservation societies, and the Audubon Society weighed the road's merits and held a public hearing. Route 114 passed unanimously in August 2000. (Of course, government being government, the process took six months.)
One deciding factor? The viewsthe only thing I can think of coming off the old bridge and plunging into the lush woodland of Ferry Road and the Roger Willams University campus. The road itself is lined with bright flowers, tall trees, and stone walls, making me feel like I'm driving in some enchanted forest.
But it's the water views that are the most majestic. Because Bristol is a peninsula, the bays of Mount Hope and Narragansett dominate the landscape. The center line becomes red, white, and blue; generic Route 114 transforms into Hope Street; and Prudence and Hog islands appear like exotic flowers floating in pools through the breaks in the trees and old mansions.
I get out of the car for a walk, and the views become even more spectacular. With its shuttered cottages and taverns, Independence Park is something out of a Melville tale. Couples stroll past the boardwalk's wrought-iron lamps, while the white triangles of sailboats flutter in the harbor.
Down the road, Colt Park boasts 460 acres of rolling lawns, two and a half miles of waterfront, and a jagged coastline dotted with inlets and alcoves. I park and gaze out at the deep blue waters of Narragansett Bay, where, in clear weather, it's possible to see Newport. The water is harsh, and the whitecaps look like shark teeth before they crash against the rocks. As constant as the smell of salt air is the breeze from the water, which cools Bristol even in the most humid of weather.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication